Illuminating the face with thoughtfully painted contour powders and creams.

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In the age of the selfie, red-carpet beauty mania and, of course, Kim Kardashian and her famously sculpted cheekbones, contouring makeup has staged a major comeback. Covered in countless YouTube beauty tutorials and spotted on runways and celebs like Jennifer Lopez, the art of contouring (strategically shading and highlighting with makeup) has re-emerged (minus the shoulder pads and frosted lipstick of the ’80s), striking fear in the hearts of those who lived through it the first time around, myself included.

'80s Contouring

A bit of background: In the late ‘80s, as a preteen, I took a modelling course at the John Casablancas modelling school in my hometown of Kitchener, Ont. Along with learning how to pose and work the runway, we were given makeup lessons and learned about contouring the face to bring out those modelesque cheekbones. I stocked my makeup bag withthick Max Factor Pan Stik makeup and brown contouring and highlighting powders (though the highlighter was far from light—matte and one-dimensional, it was like applying chalk to your face). We applied the rust-coloured contouring powder with a stiff, flat-top makeup brush, creating those telltale streaks that looked like war paint, and were advised to “blend it out.” But the makeup formulas at the time were dense and, once you painted on those stripes, they were practically budge-proof—no amount of blending could soften the effect. Fast-forward to now and I’m faced with the never-ending stream of Instagram posts of streaks, stripes and the aforementioned “war paint” look indicative of the “before” stage in contouring. Cue the ’80s flashbacks.

The Modern Contour Reprise

As it turns out, the new contouring products and formulas aren’t nearly as frightfully harsh as their ’80s forebears. “Buildable” and “blendable” are the operative words of new contouring powders and crayons from the likes of Clinique, Smashbox and Rodial. “Looking at makeup trends at fashion shows and red-carpet events over the past couple of years, it’s been all about sculpting, contouring and highlighting,” says Maria Hatzistefanis, founder of Rodial skin care, whose products provide over-the-counter alternatives to plastic surgery and injectables for those not ready to take the plunge. Responding to customer demand, Hatzistefanis launched a new range of sculpting makeup, from powders to highlighter pens, that seeks to transform the face. “My idea was to create a range based around those concepts but interpret them in a more natural way that a woman can use day to day with products that are sheer, buildable and very easy to use.”

There’s no question that, when done well, a little bit of contouring and highlighting can enhance the complexion beautifully and even take away years. “Contouring enhances the natural planes of the face and helps to achieve symmetry,” says Lori Taylor, global pro lead artist for Smashbox. “It can be used for a slimming effect, as well as lifting and, in some cases, reshaping the face.” Here, we break down the products, tools and expert tips you need to master red-carpet-worthy features.


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1. Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour Kit ($52, Sephora)

2. Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour Stick Trio ($52, Sephora)